Michael Alden‘s live-blog of Paul W.S. Anderson’s AVP: Alien Vs. Predator is much, much better than the movie.
The first time I saw AVP: Alien Vs. Predator, I was in college in central Florida. (Not *at* Central Florida – that was the big state school nearby – but *in* central Florida. The stories are true. All of them.) I had recently begun playing video games, and spent a fair bit of time playing through Alien Vs. Predator 2, which was the first piece of media that had actually made me identify with an utterly alien (ha) way of perceiving the world and humanity. Not even joking – playing a survival-horror first-person-shooter (though, when you’re the alien, less “shooter” and more “teeth-and-claws-er”) where the humans are the antagonists for a third of the game leads you to think about things a little bit.
At the time I saw this, I hadn’t seen any of the original Alien movies, or the original Predatormovie (though I had seen Predator 2, because… Danny Glover? I guess?), so I’m the weirdo who got introduced to the universe via a sequel and a PC game, then watched… this thing. Still haven’t seen the original Alien movie, though I feel like I know it pretty well just via existing within American and nerd culture in the 21st century. Clearly, I’m the ideal choice to be reviewing a film that’s *so* steeped in the mythos of the Alien & Predator universes.
Paul W.S. Anderson, though, his work I was and am familiar with. I’ve seen both of his Death Race movies, and all of the Resident Evil films. AVP: Alien Vs. Predator has Milla Jovovich, right? Or Jason Statham? I’ve generally found him to be a perfectly (fan-)serviceable director, with a decent eye for fight scenes.
I’m also not really into horror films, like, at all. Part of why I haven’t seen Alien. I figure the real world is scary enough already that I don’t need to be filling my brain with more terrifying things (seriously: the lightning sand scene from The Princess Bride still gives me nightmares). When I saw this the first time, I consented to do so because it was billed as more of an action movie – the GVM: Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla of the franchise. Also because I was bored, it was a Tuesday night in the dorm, and I figured there would be some scary bits, but that it would mostly be comprised of guns, fistfights, and explosions. As I recall, that anticipation was mostly satisfied. I can’t recall if I enjoyed the movie or not, or if I thought it was good, or the plot, or who was in it (though, again, given it’s a Paul W.S. Anderson flick, I assume Milla Jovovich is the star. Maybe she’s playing the Predator? I assume she’s not the alien). I do remember that I was working on a macroeconomics project. I got an A-. I was pissed.
Closing note before I actually hit play on AVP: Alien Vs. Predator: Can we talk for a minute about how weird it is that the movie’s title as it appears on the movie poster is an acronym for its own title, followed by the title of the movie? (Answer: of course we can; this is a monologue, not a discussion.) Top three TV shows that should really be titled in this way, and spoken of only as such:
3) H2H: Hart to Hart (I like to think this would be a gritty, Nolan-esque reboot, but the original should also be spoken of in this way.
2) BTVS: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (obvious, I know, but it had to be said)
1) M.A.O.S: Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division
Let’s do this.
A real-time blog. I’m going to be typing very fast and not thinking about things.
Antarctica. 1904. I did not recall this being a period piece. Pan through snow. Small town. Mining town? They had mining towns in Antarctica? Whaling station. Exposition via signs! Explosion. Curly-haired man running. Why is his hair so curly? Nice suspenders. Why is the color so de-saturated? Bar. Man looks at camera like a beardy Frodo. Blurred screen. Predator camouflage! Vision filter! Red dots! Headsplosion forthcoming? Clawsnick. Wolverine is in this? Alien! Clawswing. Title. Awesome.
Satellite! Wow, that CGI hasn’t aged very well. We’re in orbit now. Helloooo, Weyland Industries and plaid-shirted man in glasses driving a truck. Thanks for introducing us to someone who’s clearly going to die in the first act, or who’s going to be this film’sIndependence-Day-Goldblum (the best of the Goldblums, for my lack of money).
You ever notice that nothing goes well when a movie’s pre-credits scene is immediately followed by a closeup of laboratory mice? Aaaand we’ve got an “unidentified heat signature” in Antarctica. Do heat signatures usually identify themselves? Interesting that a signature could be unidentified, though. Seems rather a contradiction in terms.
“There isn’t anything in Sector 14.” “There is now.” Is that foreshadowing, or just foreboding? There’s a person climbing a mountain. In Sector 14? Is this person a Predator? No. She’s wearing a red hat. Everyone knows Predators don’t wear red hats, they wear guns and The Skulls Of Their Enemies. And now, yet more explanatory screentext tells us that she’s in Nepal. I never figured Nepal for being a Predator hotbed. Maybe she’s there because it’s cold, and Antarctica is also cold? (Or because it’s dark, and hell is hot? I really hope DMX is in this movie.)
Our mountain climber is getting a phone call from Weyland Industries! It surprises her and she almost falls off the mountain. They want to give her money, but she’s too far away… except that the phone call was coming from a man with a helicopter on top of the mountain. How did he get there without her noticing? Why did he call her while she was climbing up a mountain, and risk her falling off the mountain, instead of just waiting for her to get to the top and then talking to her? Was it just for the Dramatic Reveal? Clearly not.
And now we’re in Mexico, which we know because there are pyramids and also more explanatory screentext. Oh, now I get it – this is the “getting the team together” part of the movie. A man in a plaid shirt with three days of stubble so we know he’s supposed to be sexy is digging – ok, really, he’s moving some small pieces of rubble out of the way of a stone arch – and he looks at the camera and says “we must be right on top of it.” He has a slight British accent. He starts crawling through the archway into the darkness. NEVER CRAWL THROUGH THE ARCHWAY INTO THE DARKNESS. He’s clearly going to die. “What is it, Sebastian?” He’s looking in the dirt, reaching in the dirt, NO DUDE IT’S NOT WORTH IT, oh he found a bottlecap and a man with a villain beard is revoking his funding.
Cue Concerned Dialogue from his fellow but less-sexy digging people, and reassuring-but-stressed speech from Sexy Digging Man. Is this film dubbed? Because his voice doesn’t seem to be matching up with the movements of his mouth. Alternative explanation: Sexy Digging Man is a ventriloquist. Does that make us the dummies? OH GOD I’M ONLY SIX MINUTES IN.
Nope, not a ventriloquist. It was another Dramatic Reveal. Sexy Digging Man was moving his mouth for no reason(?) and mountaintop helicopter man was sitting in a tent promising him money to come work for Weyland Industries for a little while.
I just wrote almost 600 words in seven minutes. Apparently, either Mavis Beacon paid off, or graduate school has turned me into a lightningfingered snarkmonster. If only I could write this fast when I was writing my dissertation.
I can’t keep doing this. If I keep summarizing plot, I’m going to start Event Horizon-ing, orScanners-ing, and nobody in this coffee shop wants to see that. So far as I understand it, Ten Years Ago isn’t supposed to be about the gradual destruction of movie viewers’ souls or frontal lobes, and for all I love phrynosoma platyrhinos, I have no desire to squirt blood from my eyes.
I’m just going to watch the film and try to enjoy it for what it is, and what it isn’t (I’m assuming it isn’t an uplifting How Do I Reach These Kids, or a Rich People Have Problems Too, or, worse, a Rich People Have Problems Reaching These Kids, so it can’t be that bad). I’ll throw in occasional observations as the film progresses.
– Well, that first “occasional” was all of 30 seconds later. If you’re a character in a science fiction / horror film, and you have children, are you better off making a large production of how much you love them from the film’s beginning, or, after only a brief establishing scene, shutting up and fighting grimly to survive, letting the fact of their existence lurk in the background of your character as a trump card to be pulled out for extra motivation in a desperate circumstance? This character, who is begging to be described as Sallow Cleanshaven Receding Hairline Eye-Bag Man, but I’ll call Fred, and who is introduced to us via the time-honored method of Doing Something Annoying (waking up Lady Who Was Climbing A Mountain with a camera flash as he takes pictures out the helicopter window) seems to be going for the “large production” method. We’ll see how that works out.
– “I split my time between working for a small environmental group and taking scientists on expeditions on the ice.” Way to establish your character, Lady Who Was Climbing A Mountain. We know who you are now.
– Explanatory text: “Ice Breaker: Piper Maru.” Am I the only one who can’t help thinking ofStar Trek and Getting A Bad Feeling About This anytime “Maru” is used as the second word of the name of any ship? IT’S A TRAP. Am I the only one who got pissed off that the newStar Trek movies actually showed the Kobayashi Maru? Am I pissing you off right now by mashing up Star Trek and Star Wars references?
– “Two weeks, we take the money, and we head back to Mexico.” NOPE. You just killed yourself by saying that, Sexy Digging Man. Nine minutes in.
– Gruff Facial Scars is introduced via Yelling At Fred. My money’s on Gruff Facial Scars to spend time establishing his badassness, then die second, thus causing the rest of the group to panic.
– “My experts tell me it’s a pyramid.” You don’t say, Mr. Exposition Man. It took experts to figure that out? It’s geometry. Geometry experts?
– “You’re looking at the best drilling team in the world.” So – are you going to have to leave somebody behind to blow up the asteroid, or is somebody going to go crazy on the machine-gun go-kart?
– “Bova Toya is one of the most isolated places in the world.” Thanks for telling us that things are going to go badly, Lady Who Was Climbing A Mountain.
– Fifteen minutes in, now. The Lady Who Was Climbing A Mountain is deciding to go with the exposition rather than leaving. She knows that the group isn’t ready for… it being cold, I guess? But she’s started caring about Fred. There’s more talk about Fred’s children. WE MUST PROTECT FRED. Fred’s clearly going to die.
– I don’t actually know the name of Fred’s character.
– “Told you she would stay. She can’t resist my animal magnetism.” Good job, Fred. You’ve spent so much time establishing yourself as annoying-but-lovable, now you’re going to undercut that by being sexist and a creeper? Why you gotta get yourself killed off so fast?
– Lady Who Was Climbing A Mountain lays out three simple rules for surviving a science fiction horror movie. “One: No one goes anywhere alone. Ever. Two: Everyone must maintain constant communication. Three: Unexpected things are going to happen. When they do, no one tries to be a hero.” There was a line at the National Poetry Slam, from a group piece called (if I remember correctly) “How to Survive as a Black Person in a Horror Movie” – “No! Don’t check on the white guy! His privilege will protect him!” Main Character Powers activate?
– Where’s Milla Jovovich? She’s clearly going to be the Predator, right?
– Now (18 minutes) we have a Touching Moment between Lady Who Was Climbing A Mountain and a character we’ve never seen before. Are we supposed to care about these characters? New Character (let’s call her Knockoff Jovovich, or KnockJo) says a gun is like a condom. Why do you want a gun in Antarctica? “It’s better to have one and not need it, than to need one and not have it.” (The answer: you need a gun to shoot Aliens Versus Predators.)
– Sexy Digging Man is talking in Italian. He apparently grew up in Italy. He’s hitting on Lady Who Was Climbing A Mountain by talking in Italian about how he grew up in Italy. Why are horror movies always so obsessed with making all of their characters straight, and douchebags?
– OH now we’re back at the abandoned whaling station. Payoff for the intro scene! Chekhov’s whaling station! Chekhov’s Alien Versus Predator? And we’re only twenty minutes in. “If there’s an Alien Versus Predator at the beginning of the screenplay, it will show up again by the twenty minute mark of the screenplay.
– NEVER set up a camera in a dark room when you’ve wandered out by yourself in direct defiance of the main character’s genre-savvy orders, Fred.
– And, Lady Who Was Climbing A Mountain shows up for the jump-scare and moment of laughing relief. Also, penguins! Awww. Penguins. Y’know, penguins are actually pretty fierce Predators. Are we sure I can’t review Penguin Versus Winter rather than this film?
– There’s a hole in the ground. Nobody knows how it was made, except that everyone knows it had to be some kind of heat tunneling thing. Clawsnick Predator Sheathknife Smashcut touching moment between Lady Who Was Climbing A Mountain and a sick old man who’s on the expedition with all the rest of them for some reason. Please, Paul W.S. Anderson, stop trying to make me care about these characters. It’s not a good look on you.
– If this tunnel was bored by heat, why are the walls ridged? I’d think they’d be smooth. Something goes wrong! Dramatic music! Sick old man (Dr. Weyland, apparently, because all the other character start yelling his name) starts sliding down the tunnel, and LWWCAM catches him by sticking an ice axe through his hood. That must be some kinda tough fabric.
– So, 25 minutes into the movie, we’ve got a team underground, in a pyramid thing, navigating by flashlight and camera, looking at creepy carvings of Predators and Aliens. Cut to a holographic projection of the space, more dramatic music, and an ice-covered Alien in chains flexing (I guess), then back to the team, looking at Aztec and Egyptian symbols. “Only the chosen may enter.” GUESS WHO’S THE CHOSEN. IT’S YOU. YOU’RE THE CHOSEN.
– Surface team starts getting killed by the Predator, who stays camouflaged. Lots of shooting. I’m not clear on how Predator camouflage works, exactly. It seems to be timed for Dramatic Reveals – a spear uncloaking in a little wave after it pins a guy to a wall, a Predator uncloaking to look scary before it punches a guy and then throws him and then knocks him down the tunnel.
– Note that when I said “scary,” I meant “like a guy in a suit.” One of the defining moments of my life was when I realized that DMX is actually really short. Seriously. If you watch “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” with this in mind, you’ll catch onto the little camera tricks that get used to make him look like he’s not tiny. He’s standing on walls while all the rest of his crew(?) is standing on the ground, the camera films him from knee-level, all that kind of stuff. All of those same tricks are being used here to make these guys in Predator suits look like they’re big and fast and scary. Meh. They just kind of look awkward. Awwww.
– Sacrificial chamber! “Those that were chosen would lie here. They weren’t bound in any way. They went to die willingly. Men. And women. It was considered an honor.” I’d say GET OUT NOW to everybody, but it’s too late and I don’t care anymore. There’s an Alien noise in the background. Fred dismisses it. You gon’ die, Fred.
– It’s a frozen facehugger falling from the ceiling! “Looks like some kind of scorpion.” It’s not a scorpion, y’all. It’s not a scorpion. “They gave their lives so the hunt could begin.” This skeleton has its ribs burst outwards! “It’s common in ritual sacrifice to remove the heart of the victim.” “That’s nice. But that’s not where the heart is. Something broke out of this body.” Good job, KnockJo. You have demonstrated your knowledge of basic anatomy and mildly creepy dialogue. Now, you get to stay behind with one other character and catalogue everything in the sacrificial chamber. The Alien is thawing, and is somehow covered in mucus. Die well, KnockJo. Die well.
– There’s a carving. One of the people goes to grab it. Fred: “No! Don’t touch them!” Too late, Fred. Too late. Doors close. Predators look at holograms. KnockJo and her person try to prop doors with equipment. Equipment gets smashed. Mucusy canisters pop up. Mucusy canisters peel back. “What did you say this room was called?” “Sacrificial chamber.”
– Hello, facehuggers.
– Goodbye, KnockJo.
– Hello, KnockJo! Sorry, this is going to suck.
– Hello, chestburster!
– Goodbye, KnockJo. We barely knew ye. And then we didn’t. And then we did. And then we didn’t.
– There’s been a lot of writing about how the Alien films do visualizations of rape, of genitalia (male and female), etcetera, about how the horror of the films is based on seeing subconscious fears and anxieties about penetration and birth transmuted and put on screen and literally killing people. That’s here, somewhat, I guess, insofar as the Aliens are still Aliens, and therefore still manifestations of that same icky genital and birth and rape stuff, but mostly Alien Versus Predator just seems like an excuse to film some fairly generic deaths and jump scares. It’s almost sad, but not quite.
– The pyramid keeps changing shapes for no reason. Neat way to cut off characters from each other, neat excuse to not have to display any kind of spatial logic while you’re killing your characters.
– Fred and Gruff Facial Scars are stuck together, cut off from the rest of the group, and Fred is talking about his children again. Fred’s promising that Gruff Facial Scars will survive.
– “The pyramid reconfigures every ten minutes.” Isn’t it funny how these ancient cultures used the same units of measurement for time that we do now? Such a convenient coincidence.
– The floor opens up, Gruff Facial Scars falls through and breaks his legs and is surrounded by aliens and AK-47 and “You want a piece of me? You ugly son of a -” and mouth-in-a-mouth and dead. Fred listens to Gruff Facial Scars die. There’s an alien next to Fred. “Ohgod.”
– Goodbye, Fred.
– LWWCAM and the rest of the team get attacked by a Predator. Everyone dies except LWWCAM, who I’m going to call Alice from here out. Alice gets knocked over by a predator. Predator looms menacingly. Predator gets stabbed by an Alien. Alien Versus Predator! This was so cool when I was sixteen. Alice watches the Alien Versus The Predator. The Alien kills the Predator. That was somewhat anticlimactic. But there’s another predator! And apparently Sexy Digging Man and Dr. Weyland are still alive. Apparently we’re supposed to care about any of these characters as they run away? Alien Versus The Other Predator! I feel like this fight is happening in slow motion, even the parts that aren’t happening in slow motion. Why is the Predator doing so much flexing and grabbing and so little stabbing? Acid hits the Predator’s armor, so he takes it off. STOP FLEXING AT THE ALIEN AND START KILLING IT, ARMORLESS PREDATOR.
– Goodbye, second predator. Now is the time for the Alien to flex. See, Predator? That’s how you do it: flex *after* you kill your opponent, not while you’re fighting it.
– Hello, third Predator!
– Goodbye, Dr. Weyland.
– Third Predator bisects a facehugger and an Alien’s head. This is the Predator that’s going to actually Versus the Alien, clearly. He’s learned the secrets of the Alien, and of Post-Battle Flexing. Alien Versus Predator!
– …and he immediately gets facehuggered. Sigh.
– Backstory time! Sexy Digging Man is narrating. Apparently the Predators taught humanity how to build pyramids, or something, and in return people signed up to get facehuggered so the Predators could Versus Aliens and blah blah blah all of human history is about Aliens Versus Predators can we get back to the killing now?
– Oh hi Fred! Fred’s not dead? Fred’s glued to a wall. Hello, facehugger! Fred shoots the facehugger. Good job, Fred! Oh, there’s a bunch more facehuggers.
– Goodbye again, Fred.
– So now Alice and Sexy Digging Man have decided to help the Predator Versus the Aliens. Makes sense. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” “Let’s go find our friend.” Good dialogue, dude.
– Jumping across a chasm! Alice barely makes it. Sexy Digging Man grabs her wrist. Hello, Alien. Mouth-in-a-mouth.
– Goodbye, Sexy Digging Man.
– Alice is all alone now. We have one human character left. She meets the Predator. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Alien Versus Predator And Also Alice!
– Alice Versuses the Alien with a spear, the Predator mounts a gun on his shoulder so he can Versus the Aliens with that, and we have shooting, and suddenly there’s setup for a lot more Versusing. Let’s do this! There’s still half an hour of movie left! Oh god. There’s still half an hour of movie left.
– Boss Alien is breaking free, surrounded by Little Aliens. STOP FLEXING AND JUST VERSUS ALREADY, I WANT TO GO HOME. I just want to go home.
– I just want to go home.
– Alice has a spear now, and also a gun. She finds Fred. It’s Fred’s gun.
– Sexy Digging Man is glued to the wall next to Fred. “Sebastian. I’m going to get you out of there.” Oh, that’s right. Sexy Digging Man was named Sebastian. Is named Sebastian? Whatever. He doesn’t deserve to have a name. “It’s too late,” Sexy Digging Man says. “It’s inside of me.” I feel you, dude. Alice shoots Sexy Digging Man and drops the gun. Don’t drop the gun! Chestburster chestbursts out of Sexy Digging Corpse and Predator squishes it. Without even thinking or flinching. There’s some serious variability happening here in terms of the threat level and speed and toughness of our aliens and also our predators. Boss alien breaks free and starts slow-motion running down a stone hallway, like straight-up Chariots of Fire-ing it.
– This movie would be so much better with a Vangelis soundtrack.
– Didn’t this Predator get facehuggered, like, 20 minutes ago? I’m not saying that the movie dropped some plot points somewhere, just that I feel like it dropped some plot points somewhere.
– Now there’s something about a bomb.
– An Alien Versuses the Predator, who drops the Predator Gun mid-Versusing. Alice Versuses the Alien with the gun, and Alice and the Predator slow-motion outsled and outrun the bomb they set off. THEY JUST WANT TO GO HOME.
– I just want to go home.
– The Predator takes off its mask. It burns Alice’s face with a piece of the Alien she Versused. Aww, tender post-Versusing burnbonding moment!
– Boss Alien jumps out of the ground and Versuses the Predator by punching it. YOU HAVE CLAWS and TEETH and YOUR TAIL IS A SPEAR and YOU CAN THROW ACID, WHY WOULD YOU PUNCH. Alice Versuses the Boss Alien with a spear, YOU HAVE A GUN, and it chases after her because it thinks it should be Versusing rather than getting Versused. Versusing only works if it goes both ways, that’s like the first rule of Versusing. Predator Versuses Boss Alien with a spear, YOU ALSO HAVE A GUN and then flexes. NO. FLEX ONLY POST-VERSUSING, NOT MID-VERSUSING. Boss Alien Re-Versuses the Predator by stabbing it in the chest. Good job, Boss Alien.
– Tug of war! Boss Alien Versus Predator And Alice And Also Whaling Station! Whaling Station turns out to be the Tug of War Champion. Chekhov’s Whaling Station: If there’s a whaling station on the edge of a cliff, it will go off the cliff by the end of the movie. Or would that be Chekhov’s Cliff? I don’t care anymore. The point is Chekhov. There is no point. Interesting note: Anton Chekhov’s father was named Pavel. Why isn’t Walter Koenig in this movie?
– Lots of Predators now, looking at the body of the Predator the Boss Alien Versused and staring at the burn marks on Alice’s cheek. Predators give Alice a Predator Spear and walk away, cloaks flapping in the Antarctic breeze. Alice watches them leave as dramatic music that is not Vangelis plays. They’re going home. So am I.
– But wait, there’s more, I guess. Predators In Space. The Predator that got Versused THROUGH THE CHEST now has a CHESTburster because it got facehuggered right after it was introduced to us, like, an hour ago. It’s been fighting and getting stabbed with an alien inside of it this whole time, despite us knowing that the Predators can see through skin and see aliens inside of people. And, really, you set up this Predator, who is the only Predator who did anything cool in the entire film, getting facehuggered right at the beginning of its… I mean, it’s not an arc, but, maybe a line segment, just to have one more fight scene after the story is over? Story’s too strong a word. “Story.” The chestburster flexes. Alien Versus Predators In Space! Nope. Credits. Sigh.
– This movie seems to time all of its biology for Dramatic Reveals, rather than for Logic. It also seems to make its Aliens and its Predators exactly as badass or as wimpy as it needs to be in order to create Dramatic Tension, rather than letting them actually be characters.
– This movie kind of sucks. Nope, no kind of. This movie sucks. The human characters aren’t really characters, the Aliens and Predators aren’t really characters either, and the whole thing feels like a pitch rather than an actual movie. We came for the Versusing, and even that wasn’t up to snuff. (Ha. Snuff.) The video games were better than this. I have no idea why I wanted to watch this movie again. The fact that I think I used to like this movie, or at least that I used to not hate this movie, says bad things about who I used to be. My life is lessened by having seen this movie. I’m going to go stare at a blank wall, rock slowly back and forth, and mutter things that aren’t words. The wall will have better character development and plot logic than this movie did.